Happy accidents No. 2: The importance of zero

What difference does zero make? Quite a bit when they’re in the wrong place 😉

So I was merrily bumbling down the riverside road in Kampot, on my way to breakfast via an ATM. The ATM dutifully whirred and beeped…and churned out a $10 note. I thought I’d asked for $100, but maybe I just typed the wrong thing, so I shrugged and did another transaction. My nerve was failing me, so this time I just asked for $50. ATMs abroad are, for me, a tug of war of ‘But there’s not point withdrawing a tiny amount because you’re still charged the same’ versus ‘How much money could you bear to loose if your bag was snatched between here and your hostel?’, which makes what happened next even funnier in hindsight.

The machine gave me $500. By now it was clear that it was the ATM, and not me, who was having trouble with zeros. I scanned around the ATM booth for a number to call. Nothing. There was no bank near the ATM, so instead I tried to explain to the waiter outside a local cafe that the machine was broken and I didn’t know what to do, and he beamed and told me that the bank was about 200m down the road. Easy peasy.

My hostel being tucked in the sleepy/dodgy part of Kampot, I hadn’t realised how big this place is. I’d thought it was sort of like the Borth of Cambodia (no bad thing) but it’s more like the Aberystwyth of Cambodia. There’s a huge shiny bank. There’s binmen collecting rubbish there’s shops and travel agents on the way to the bank and there’s…The Epic Arts Cafe. I kind of clocked the cafe on my way to the bank and remembered it from my guidebook. I vaguely thought about visiting it after this car crash of zeros had been sorted out but I was pretty much running because 200m is a long way when you’re carrying $360 of what is either someone else’s money, or YOUR money, which you wanted to stay put in your account for now, actually.

Once the red-faced foreigner had made herself understood to the cool and composed bank clerks, someone went off to check the machine and found that, yes, I had asked for a total of $150 and yes, the ATM in its infinite wisdom had given me $510, everything was sorted out. The clerk/manager kept saying ‘thank you sister, thank you sister!’ and it occurred to me that I’d kind of done them a favour too, although personally I think that if you could happily walk off with hundreds of dollars that aren’t yours without so much as a second thought then you probably deserve to slip up on something smelly and colourful. While wearing white.

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So, accounts being balanced, I was a free woman, completely at liberty to have brunch anywhere for up to $150 (Just kidding! Unless you want to buy brunch for the whole of Kampot…) and I chose Epic Arts Cafe.

Epic Arts is actually an organisation based in London, and they have projects in the UK and Cambodia. ‘Epic’ kinda stands for Every Person Counts and it works on the idea of seeing ability rather than disability in people, enabling children and adults to live the kind of life they want, rather than what’s ‘prescribed’ to them by their disability. They probably put it better themselves though, so please look at their website and facebook page!

One of the ways Epic Arts puts this into practice is through Epic Arts Cafe. You get to the door on a sun-drenched street and are greeted by chalkboards with information about the cafe and shop on them. You kick off your shoes and go into a western-style cafe; airy and beautifully decorated, with crafts for sale around the room. The crafts are made by project participants and even children from Epic Arts’s school and the funds go back into these projects, which provide education and art classes for children and adults with special educational needs.

In the cafe, a waitress hands you a form. Some of the staff at Epic Arts are deaf, so after perusing the menu, you fill out the form and hand it to a waitress. Your order is freshly prepared and brought to you by the perpetually friendly and cheerful staff (Although deaf and disabled people being in employment doesn’t seem to be common in Cambodia, the upbeat attitude definitely is. Staff in many of the hostels and eating places I’ve been put me to shame when I think of my ‘mardy barmaid’ days!)

Upstairs, there’s more crafts for sale, and on Friday afternoons there’s a free lesson in Khmer sign language. (I can now tell you what my favourite colour is, and where I’m from. I’ve been thinking of learning BSL when I get home and this lesson definitely inspired me to make it happen!)

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I am so glad that ATM decided to give me a heart attack a couple of days ago, as I’ve sunk a few dollars, and blissful hours spent writing and learning, into both the cafe and the shop further up the road since then…it’s good news for my bank balance (and waistline!) that I’m heading back to Phnom Penh today, on my way to Ho Chi Minh City tomorrow!

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Even the toilets have artwork in them! Sadly I don't think this one was for sale :(
Even the toilets have artwork in them! Sadly I don’t think this one was for sale 😦
A warning about ethical tourism in Cambodia
A warning about ethical tourism in Cambodia
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